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Duty Calls (Novel)

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Duty Calls
Duty-calls.jpg
Duty Calls, 2007 cover art by Clint Langley
Author Sandy Mitchell
Publisher Black Library
Series Ciaphas Cain
Preceded by Death or Glory
Followed by Cain's Last Stand
Released 2007
Editions 2007 softcover
ISBN 9781844164653

Duty Calls is the fifth novel in the Ciaphas Cain series by Sandy Mitchell. It was first published in 2007. It forms the second part of the "Shadowlight Trilogy" within the Cain series, along with Death or Glory and Cain's Last Stand.

Summary

After successfully escaping Simia Orichalcae, Cain and the Valhallan 597th rejoin Lord General Zyvan's task force, deployed to secure Periremunda from an incoming Tyranid Hive Fleet. Less than a day after their arrival, Cain narrowly survives an assassination attempt, and is surprised to be reunited with Inquisitor Amberley Vail, who cheerfully informs him that, as if the Tyranids weren't enough, Periremunda is also crawling with hidden genestealers and what looks suspiciously like an emerging Chaos cult. Her first priority, however, is recovering a lost xenos artifact that happens to have a close link to Cain's past.

Synopsis

Spoiler!
This page contains spoilers for: Duty Calls (Novel)

In response to popular demand from the rest of the Ordo Xenos, Amberley Vail decides to publish the section of the Cain Archive dealing with Ciaphas Cain's first adventure as what he often referred to as her "errand boy."

Part One

About a year after the Simia Orichalcae debacle, the Valhallan 597th is redeployed to Periremunda, where an insurrection against Imperial authority is in progress. Major Broklaw points out that while insurrections are common in the Imperium, few of them are serious enough to require intervention by a Guard unit. From what Cain has read, the Periremunda uprising is unusually tenacious and well-organized, not to mention unexpected on a planet that has been, until recently, peaceful and prosperous. Cain starts to get a bad feeling about their assignment — nothing he can put his finger on, but he has learned to trust his own paranoia.

A short excerpt from a popular travelogue explains that Periremunda is largely uninhabitable, consisting of a sea of constantly shifting tectonic plates and magma. The native population is confined to a series of thousands of plateaus ranging high above the surface, on which can be found the whole range of Imperial environments, from pastoral farmlands to enormous hive cities.

As Colonel Kasteen is setting up their headquarters, Cain receives an invitation from the local Arbitrator to share the most current information about the uprising. En route to the meeting in the Arbitrator's limousine, Cain and Jurgen are ambushed by heavily-armed civilians. Seeing the mutations on their attackers' bodies, including extra limbs, Cain swiftly realizes what they are dealing with on Periremunda: genestealer hybrids. Their Arbites escort is all but gone, and it is down to Cain, Jurgen, and a frightened snack seller caught in the crossfire, when a figure in golden power armour emerges from the undercity and dispatches the remaining genestealers. The figure flips up its helmet, and Cain is stunned to see Amberley Vail grinning back at him.

After "clearing up" the site of the attack with an incendiary grenade, Vail reunites with the rest of her retinue, who likewise escaped after cleansing a primary genestealer nest beneath the city. Cain is surprised (though determined not to show it) when she accompanies him to his meeting with Arbitrator Keesh. By now, Cain has seen the true nature of the "insurrection" they are facing on the planet, but Amberley has worse news for him. Although she and her team eliminated the Genestealer Patriarch, they were not able to do it before the broods sent their telepathic call to a distant Hive Fleet, which is on its way as they speak.

An excerpt from a history of the Tyrannic Wars explains that, after Behemoth was defeated at the Battle for Macragge in 745.M41, the Imperium encountered scattered splinters of the defeated Hive Fleet, but nonetheless allowed itself to think that it had seen the worst of the Tyranid threat. Unfortunately, by the 900's M41, it was clear that the splinter fleets being encountered were actually the advance guard for two whole new Hive Fleets (Kraken and Leviathan). In particular, Kraken's large-scale invasion of Ichar IV allowed Imperial observers to confirm the hypothesis already long proposed by the Ordo Xenos: that genestealers not only infest and undermine the population of a target world, but also collectively act as a psychic beacon for distant hive fleets.

Part Two

With Amberley's permission, Cain shares the news with Kasteen and Broklaw, while cautioning that it can't go any further. They are both shaken (remembering the carnage on Corania that ripped the 597th's precursor regiments in half), but start planning with their usual professionalism. The one thing in their favor is the terrain: the swarm will find the molten surface as inhospitable as the defenders do, so the Guard can concentrate their efforts on the most densely inhabited plateaux.

A few days later, the 597th is efficiently deployed, but Cain is unable to relax, especially when neither Amberley nor the local Arbites can say with any certainty how much of the local PDF is infiltrated by the genestealers. Before long, they are summoned to a meeting of all the Guard commanders by Lord General Zyvan.

As they are about to embark for the meeting, another terrorist act is unleashed. A heavy cargo dirigible filled with promethium is heading for the city on a suicide run. Cain's first impulse is to hide, but there is nowhere to go: there is enough promethium aboard the dirigible that the explosion will wipe the entire plateau clean. As the Valhallans try without success to disable the lifter's engines, Cain has a flash of inspiration: he and Jurgen ram a Chimera into one of the dangling mooring lines and snare it, dragging the whole mess toward the edge of the plateau, jumping free of the vehicle as it goes off the cliff. Seconds later, the promethium detonates harmlessly beneath the plateau.

Cain's actions have saved not only the planet's sole spaceport, but over a million civilians in Darien (the capital city), and a local news broadcast lionizes Cain for acting without a thought for his own safety (when he would say it was the first, last, and only thing on his mind).

In conference with the Guardsmen, the local PDF commanders, and a contingent from a convent of the Order of the Bloody Rose, Zyvan drops another bombshell: they have discovered that the genestealers managed to tamper with the planet's orbital sensors, opening a small gap in their defenses that has allowed the hive fleet to infiltrate advance units; the Tyranids are already among them.

On his way out of the meeting, a senior Mechanicus Magos named Lazurus introduces himself to Cain and asks if the Commissar has made any progress finding Metheius. Cain has no idea who the Magos is talking about, but hides it, deducing that Lazurus and Amberley have some common purpose on Periremunda.

Making his way out of the meeting, Cain is briefly alone in an anteroom, when he notices something out of the corner of his eye and ducks, narrowly avoiding a badly-judged stab from an invisible assassin with a knife. Cain desperately fends off more attacks with his chainsword, until Jurgen rushes in and the assassin suddenly becomes visible, his limited psyker abilities nullified. He has just enough time to wonder what's gone wrong before Cain decapitates him.

Over a private dinner with Zyvan and Amberley, Cain learns that the would-be assassin was a mid-level bureaucrat in his 40's, with no previous sign of psyker ability. This, combined with his several amateurish mistakes, leads Cain to think he manifested his psyker ability late in life – which is unusual, to say the least. Cain quails at the thought that, thanks to his sudden fame among Periremundans, some "halfwit insurrectionists" might think that killing him could actually cripple the Guard's operations.

After dinner, Cain meets in private with Amberley at her hotel suite, where she explains her primary mission. Cain, she notes wryly, is already familiar with the scene: the Mechanicus hydroelectric dam he destroyed during the Siege of Perlia, almost twenty years ago. Cain recalls the secret laboratory he discovered inside the dam, which looked like it had been looted by an Astartes squad just before his arrival.

The Mechanicus and the Ordo Xenos have been running a joint project on Perlia for decades, researching an ancient xenos artifact discovered when the dam was first excavated – and by "ancient," she means older than Mankind's presence in the Galaxy. They have little idea what the artifact does, but must assume it's incredibly dangerous. Now, the Ordo and the Mechanicus have joined forces again, to track down the thieves, and their chief suspect is a rogue Magos named Metheius – one of the senior project directors who disappeared along with the artifact.

So, Amberley summarizes, their liabilities now include genestealers, approaching Tyranids, an ancient xenos artifact in the hands of a rogue, and what now looks like a Chaos cult lifting its head for the first time. Cain promises Amberley and Lazurus that he will ask Zyvan's intelligence analysts to re-sift their data for signs of this cult.

Part Three

While the 597th completes its defensive preparations, Cain receives a message from Amberley, asking him and Jurgen to accompany her party; trace elements found in the assassin's lungs link him to a mining station on one of the outlying plateaus, Hell's Edge.

Investigating the station, they find it deserted, with signs of recent attack by Tyranids. In one of the buildings they find a secret lab almost identical to the one on Perlia, likewise empty. The artifact, of course, is nowhere to be found. When their pilot warns of movement on the edge of the plateau, everyone rushes back to the shuttle, but not before they are attacked by a Tyranid swarm. With her power armour, Amberley acts as rearguard while everyone else boards, but is close to being overwhelmed by hormagaunts. Cain steps off the shuttle to assist her – out of affection for her, or for the more pragmatic reason that no one's leaving until she's on board, he isn't entirely sure. As they lift off, Amberley notes grimly that the Tyranids are gathering biomass, and are preparing to launch their offensive in earnest.

Over the next few days, the planetary capital loses contact with several outlying plateaus. Zyvan outlines a strategy of "phased reinforcement" – the Guard will remain concentrated on a few strategic points, while the PDF units will hold the outer lines and request Guard reinforcements as needed. The strategy succeeds in preventing the Tyranids from gaining a foothold, but they still haven't located the Hive's digester pools.

During this tense waiting period, Cain almost falls victim to another assassination attempt, this time from a swarm of servo-skulls armed with bolters. Shaken, Cain decides to leave the regimental headquarters and camp in some more obscure corner, such as with one of the platoons being held in reserve. No sooner has he done so than his unit of choice – Sulla's – get called to action to Aceralbaterra, a lush jungle plateaux filled with enough livestock to provide the Tyranids with a feast.

As the Guard makes touchdown, the situation is already grim; the PDF units are holding their ground, but close to exhaustion, and one element is recklessly pushing forward, leaving a gap in the defenses. Acutely aware that their entire position will be outflanked if these heroes are not reined in, Cain drives to intercept them in a Chimera, only to find that they are Battle Sisters, driving into the Tyranid ranks without a thought for their own survival. Since his Commissarial authority holds no sway over them, he appeals to their reason: if they're outflanked, then the Tyranids will massacre the terrified civilians first – even if the Sisters die gloriously in battle, they will doubtless be called to account before the Golden Throne.

Beating a hasty retreat to the Guard lines, Cain and Jurgen are nearly overrun by the flanking Tyranids, but Sergeant Grifen's squad comes to their aid. Just as he thinks himself safe, a stray frag missile fired by a PDF unit blows the track off their Chimera and Cain receives a nasty concussion. Limping to safety, he and Jurgen only just manage to stay ahead of the Tyranids before Cain passes out.

Extracts from various sources elaborate that, while Cain is unconscious, a fleet from the Imperial Navy arrives in orbit and starts punishing the Tyranids' Hive Ships. This stops the hive fleet from landing any further reinforcements on the planet, though there are still plenty on the ground already to give the Guard problems.

Part Four

When Cain is (barely) well enough to rise from his bunk, the first thing he does is demand an investigation into the PDF unit that fired on him; he isn't convinced it was an accident. Kasteen mentions that the PDF unit were from Gavarrone, where the Sororitas convent is located, and Canoness Eglantine was positive that they were genestealer-free. Cain asks that they be checked out anyway.

While Cain was asleep, Kasteen explains, the Tyranids have scattered Mycetic Spores all over the plateau, but her tactics are keeping them effectively divided and contained. Her major worry, she confesses, is the thousand or so civilians huddled in the transit terminal: one wrong word, and they'll have a rioting crowd at their backs, tearing holes in their defenses. She is hopeful that Cain – already the public face of the Guard on Periremunda – could calm them down. Cain privately curses the impulse that got him out of bed, but gamely agrees to do so.

At the terminal, barely has he launched into his palliative speech when two very bad things happen: first a Lictor that has slipped past the Guard lines appears; at the same time, a trio of three Chaos psykers appear at the other end of the terminal, advancing on Cain. Caught between the two, Cain decides to charge the psykers, with Jurgen by his side. Like the invisible psyker who attacked Cain earlier, these psykers are far too enamoured of their new powers, and likewise far too stupefied when their powers are nullified by Jurgen's presence, to defend themselves. But as soon as Cain and Jurgen cut them down, they have the Lictor to deal with. Fortunately, Grifen's squad arrives in a Chimera, which unceremoniously flattens the Lictor beneath its treads.

Part Five

Not only has Cain's latest "heroism" saved the civilians inside the terminal, but Amberley cheerfully announces that the rogue psykers were from Gavarrone, linking the Chaos cult to that plateau. Cain is skeptical, wondering how a heretical cult could hope to hide within a stone's throw of a Sororitas convent; Amberley rejoins that, in her experience, overly pious souls like Eglantine tend to take too much for granted. Since Cain has already been requesting an investigation of the Gavarronian PDF, this is a perfect excuse for them to go and take a look.

Vail and her retinue accompany Cain and Jurgen, disguised as a Valhallan squad. To their surprise, a signal diverts their shuttle to the convent, where the Sisters inform Cain that "the Inquisitor" is most anxious to meet him. Cain, hiding his astonishment, allows himself to be swept along, after formally dismissing "Corporal" Vail and his escort.

Cain is met by Ernst Stavros Killian of the Ordo Hereticus, who cheerfully admits to being behind the attempts on Cain's life, but for the moment is more interested in talking. At Killian's side, Cain recognizes Metheius, the rogue Tech Priest. Over lunch, Killian is more than happy to explain what's going on (in the mistaken belief that Cain knows most or all of it already).

Years ago, Metheius told Killian of the Shadowlight – the xenos artifact being studied on Perlia – and they both agreed that its real potential was being wasted. The Mechanicus and Ordo Xenos researchers still hadn't discovered exactly what it was meant to do, but its side effect is tantalizing enough: mere physical contact with the object can turn latent psykers into tremendously powerful active ones (the majority of the test subjects die horribly, but that's beside the point). Killian envisions creating an army of these psykers, powerful enough to storm the Eye of Terror and purge the forces of Chaos from the galaxy forever.

Unfortunately, the researchers didn't share his vision, and so Killian recruited his faithful Sororitas acolytes to take it for him. Metheius has been studying the artifact on Periremunda ever since, and the denizens of the local Chaos cult were eager to volunteer as test subjects. The Sisters have likewise been invaluable to him in guarding Metheius's secret research lab on Hell's Edge, especially from the desperate civilians who tried to board their ship when the Tyranids overran the plateau.

As Killian blithely prattles on about the innocent people he has been forced to sacrifice, Cain realizes that the Inquisitor is not quite sane. Cain also realizes with a shock that Killian actually wants him as an ally. Seeing the news reports on Cain's heroism, Killian has concluded that Cain is either the one man who can stop him, or the one man who can convince the Mechanicus and the Inquisition that he's actually doing the right thing. In earnest of his intentions, Killian takes Cain and Jurgen to view the Shadowlight, inside Metheius's latest laboratory within the convent itself.

Killian confides that, with Periremunda close to being overrun by the Tyranids, they will have to abandon the planet and expunge all traces of their presence. But he has already thought of that, and cheerfully shows them his "escape plan": a live Lictor, bound inside the sanctum, its pheromones acting as a beacon for the swarm. Seeing that, Cain abandons subterfuge and yells for Amberley over his vox-bead.

A firefight erupts, which turns into a standoff. While Cain holds Killian and Metheius at bay, Jurgen grabs the Shadowlight. Seeing him do so with no ill effects, Killian and Metheius believe that Cain has some device in his possession that has deactivated it. As Amberley comes thundering into the sanctum with her troops, Killian grabs the Shadowlight and drops into a hidden tunnel. As soon as he gets out of range of Jurgen's dampening field, however, the artifact blitzes him with pure Warp energy, killing him almost instantly.

Their problems are not over, however: the Lictor has done its work, and the Tyranids are attacking. Eglantine and her Battle Sisters, having been convinced by Amberley of Killian's heresy, are prepared to sell their lives to defend the plateau and allow Cain and his party to reach safety. Their flight to the shuttle is a messy affair, and the captive Metheius is claimed by a swoop of Gargoyles, but the shuttle lifts off, and Amberley signals the fleet in orbit to annihilate the plateau with its Lance batteries. Their job is done, and Cain is grateful to hand over the Shadowlight to Amberley and thank the Emperor that he'll never lay eyes on the thing again.

An assumption which momentous events at the turn of the millennium will prove drastically wrong...

List of Characters

Imperial Guard

Periremunda

The Inquisition

Continuity

Trivia

  • The jungle plateau where the penultimate battle takes place, populated by large, reptilian livestock, is named "Connondoil." Arthur Conan Doyle, most famous as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, also wrote "The Lost World," a novel about Victorian-age explorers discovering a plateau in the Amazon rain forest populated by dinosaurs and other extinct creatures.


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